As I prepare for my first ever trip to Paris at the end of this month, I’m reading Ernest Hemingway’s ode to the city and the life of writing, A Moveable Feast, just finished my third viewing of Midnight in Paris, and am about to begin the current bestseller, The Paris Wife. I prepare for trips in a slightly different way from the normal traveler. While the art and history are always enormous draws, I always seek out the literary history of the place as well. Our favorite London hotel is right around the corner from one of Virginia Woolf’s homes. I’ve sat in Charles Dickens’ favorite seat, the ACTUAL seat, as in same bench, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. (Rebuilt following the fire of ’66, that is 1666 of course!) And no trip to England is complete without the requisite pilgrimages related to Jane Austen, most recently to her grave. So, it is a given that part of my precious little time in Paris will be spent finding the haunts of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al. To prepare, some reading/rereading is in order. Hence, A Moveable Feast.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know,” Hemingway advises us. Of course this lesson is told in the spare, unadorned language that is so Hemingway. I never cared much for his writing when I was forced to read it in high school and college. Too spare. Like baroque music, it lacks the flourishes and emotion of the romantics like Shubert. But now that I am trying my hand at his art, I read him with a different sensitivity. And this quote about the true sentence has been haunting me for days now. What is a true sentence?
Knowing Hemingway, the true sentence probably shows rather than tells. It uses active verbs, and very few if any ‘to be’ verbs. I doubt there would be a place for those dreaded adverbs. It would be full of sensory information though. The reader would know what those oysters taste like, what the rain sounds like, what the crowded bar smells like. It would be true.
I’m adding the ‘true sentence’ to my toolbox. And I’m excited for Paris: the art, the history, and the literary tradition. Bon jour!